Academy of Vocal Arts’ production of L’elisir d’amore is set in 1945 Italy and features Peter Harrison’s very warm set with angled rows of books in dark wood frames. The props a trove of period items such as a black lacquer manual typewriter, a period hi-fi. All perfect backdrops for Val Starr’s costumes with the men decked out in film noir suits and the women in a colorful array of tight sweaters, wraparound skirts and liberation day pumps. A poster of Il Duce hangs for the moment straight up on the back wall.
Director Nic Muni takes a risk updating Elisir to such a historically pivotal time as the end of WWII, but it works as a Donizetti farce and a grand melodramatic work it is. The war weary Italians get together in the neutral zone of the library to indulge in various post-war activities. Enter Adina, the head librarian, who is smoking even before she lights a cigarette. She distracts with a reading of the tale of Isolde’s magic love potion and presto, Dr. Dulcamara is hustling such a potion, which is actually just wine and is set upon by the hapless Nemorino, a custodian at the library, who is besotted by Adina.
Nemorino buys some of the potion, gets drunk and blows it playing hard to get with Adina. Meanwhile, the very ungallant Belcore, sergeant in the Axis army, is a handsome fascist who starts conscripting the men and hitting on the women, but is stopped dead in his tracks by Adina. The misunderstanding with Nemorino causes her to accept Belcore’s proposal, but she soon starts to understand the depth of Nemorino’s true love when he enlists in the army just to have the funds to buy more of the potion that would make her fall for him.
Both Muni and conductor Christofer Macatsoris go past the contrivances of the plot and themes of love lost, lust, betrayal, jealousy are all intoxicatingly freshly uncorked in this Elisir. Rossini-esque crispness in the progressions and flowing orchestral mis-en-scenes are faced off by lots of sonic singing, particularly by the chorus that was outsized for the room, but otherwise glorious in its textures.
Soprano Sydney Mancasola, giving Rita Hayworth a run for her money with smoldering auburn hair tumbling over her gorgeous eyes, just vocally thrilling and subtly interpretive. Musa Ngqungwana’s bass just kept giving comedically and with a lot of heart as the bombastic Doctor.
As the unrelenting cad Belcore, Wes Mason, is a silky baritone. Chrystal E. Williams was that blond bob and polka skirt girl from town that everybody loves, and her mezzo was a silvery stratosphere and charming. But it was Luigi Boccia’s hapless Nemorino, who just breaks out in this role as the drunken suitor. When he sings the famous “Una furtiva largima” his bittersweet renunciation of Adina that just melted everybody’s heart and brought the house down. Macatsoris’ gorgeous orchestration with Sophie Bruno’s haunting harp and Geoffrey Deemer’s fine oboe line at the forefront.